Profile: Kat has enjoyed baking and cooking for as long as she can remember. Her grandmother, Rita, was a great baker—especially of pies. Inspired by Rita, Kat began to be the one to bring dessert to family events. (Her grandfather, Stu, used to say that “Kat is bringing dessert” were some of his favorite words.) Often her family will hide the Christmas cookies she gives them when they have guests in the house. Her husband is a great tester of Kat Treats. When Kat is not baking or blogging, she works in higher education (but secretly dreams that some day she might open a treat truck or bakery/bookstore).
For many summers, my family was fortunate enough to be able to take a week (sometimes two) on the island Nantucket. These were great weeks for many reasons. I helped my brother learn to ride his bike on the shell-lined street of the cottage we often rented. We would take long morning and evening walks in the village of Siasconset (Sconset to natives) where we typically rented our cottage. Dinners often featured food cooked on the grill, fresh corn from Bartlett’s Farm, and s’mores. Most evenings started with an outdoor “happy hour” featuring cocktails for the adults, cheese, and crackers. Above all else, this trip was about food and family.
One of the best parts of the trip was always driving the car off the ferry when we arrived on the island. We would breathe in those familiar smells, and check out what had changed as we drove to our rental. One year, just off the docks, we saw the sign for a new cookie shop, the Nantucket Cookie Company. Though of course we had brought baked goods–likely both something my mom and I had baked the day before the trip AND cookies my Gram made and packed for us in an old Ritz tin–we knew we would be stopping to check this place out. (We never met a cookie we didn’t like.) Soon this shop became a place we had to visit once or twice during a trip. They made great Nantucket cranberry-oatmeal, snickerdoodles, chocolate chipotle, and iced lemon cookies. We would buy an assortment, bring them home, and cut them into pieces so that everyone could try a piece of the different flavors. On the sad day when we had to pack up the car and return to the mainland, someone would run to the cookie shop and get our favorites to accompany lunch on the boat ride home.
Our favorite cookie of all was the mocha polka (now called the mocha frost). This was a lot like a chocolate crinkle cookie, but it had chips and a hint of espresso. My brother and his wife loved the cookie so much that they ordered them to give as favors at their wedding. It became my mission to figure out how to replicate these cookies at home. My version of these cookies has met with the approval of my favorite cookie tasters–those who have tried the original and those who have not. I always try to make them for my brother and sister-in-law for their birthdays at the end of April or for their wedding anniversary. In fact, I dropped off an early birthday batch yesterday. I wonder if there are any left today…
Las Vegas has so much myth and hype about it, that it is hard to imagine anyone going in there without a preconceived idea of what it would be like. Vegas never seemed like a place that would be my cup of tea, but I have always wanted to visit it at least once. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend a conference there last week.
Vegas exceeded all of my expectations! One can’t help but get caught up in the surreal hum and buzz of it all. It truly does feel like a theme park for grown-ups. Everywhere you go there is music being piped onto the street, into the halls, and inside the elevators. You start to feel as if your life has a soundtrack.
My free time was limited, but I was able to see the Cirque du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio. This is their aquatic show–there are currently eight Cirque du Soleil shows running in Vegas. It was amazing. I could not help but gasp at several points. This photo was taken outside the Bellagio as the fountains were in the midst of one of their shows. I have never seen people clap for fountains before, but these were worth it.
It was hard to leave such an energizing place, particularly to leave the dry 85 degree days and blue skies to come back to snow in Massachusetts. Still, I think I have an extra spring in my step from this brief stay in fabulous Las Vegas.
My office is full of people who love to cook. Monday mornings often find us chatting about what we’ve made over the weekend. If someone is a bit slow picking up a new recipe from the printer, someone else might end up making a copy. We have even created a shared Dropbox folder so that we can swap our favorite recipes. Lately we all seem to be using our slow cookers. Most of us have small households so, before one commits to making a big batch of something, it is good to know what successes and failures others have had. Hands down our go-to cookbook seems to be Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen. As I have written before, it has great recipes and helpful tips to make your slow-cooked meals the best they can be.
This shared love of cooking inspired this recipe. A few weeks ago I printed a chicken tikka masala recipe from Table for Two. When I went to pick it up from the printer, my co-worker mentioned that she had just made the same recipe a few nights ago. She had been a bit disappointed, but couldn’t figure out quite why. Another co-worker said that he had tried a similar recipe from Chow.com and had the same experience. We were still discussing this when Anna (of Anna’s Double Ginger Pie) joined the conversation. She had purchased Anupy Singla’s The Indian Slow Cooker, a slow-cooker cookbook dedicated to Indian cuisine. We compared the three recipes and I offered to experiment to create one master recipe combining the best elements of the three. I am still waiting for someone else to test it, but the hubby and I really enjoyed it. Like many slow cooker recipes, it tastes better the second day and freezes well.
For Valentine’s Day I wanted to share something that was a little bit different than what one might typically imagine making for this holiday. Valentine’s Day treats don’t have to be heart shaped or chocolate or red velvet (not that those are bad things). My thoughts turned instead to two flavors that complement one another like the best sweethearts do. It was then that I remembered these raspberry coconut squares.
Back in the 1980s, my mom’s friend gave her this recipe. As a kid, I thought they sounded terrible. Raspberry? Coconut? What was wrong with brownies? I quickly realized the error of my ways and began my deep love of baking with both raspberry and coconut.
What makes these squares so good is the balance of textures and tastes. The jam is still a little gooey, the crust tender, and the coconut contrasts with both of those textures. The raspberry is a bit tart, the coconut a bit sweet, and the crust provides a nice buttery foundation. To me, these squares are also a bit nostalgic while using one of the more popular ingredients and flavors of the moment, coconut. For all of these reasons–balance of textures, balance of flavors, something old made new again, and a hit of red–I think these are a perfect Valentine’s Day treat. I hope you do too.
On wintery, cold mornings in the months where we are all trying to be a bit healthier, I often feel I should be eating oatmeal. As a kid, I would see commercials with children being served steaming bowls of oatmeal by moms in sweaters and would start lobbying my mom for oatmeal the next time we were at the store. Here is the problem though. I always liked the idea of oatmeal more than actual oatmeal. Sure I love oatmeal bread and oatmeal cookies, but a bowl of oatmeal often was unsatisfying. I went through a phase of trying all sorts of different instant varieties, but never had the time or inclination to cook oatmeal on the stove. How could a packet full of dry instand oats and a bunch of sugary, fake stuff not disappoint at some level?
Over the last year or so I have been seeing all sorts of new approaches to oatmeal. I have saved recipes for baked oatmeal, oatmeal breakfast bars, oatmeal breakfast cookies, etc. It wasn’t until I started seeing recipes for oatmeal made in the slow cooker that I got really serious about trying oatmeal again.
When I read the post for “Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal” by Julie from Table for Two on Baked By Rachel, I knew I had something I should try. Of all the instant oatmeal I have loved, I have always gravitated toward the apple-cinnamon or maple varieties. Sometimes I’d even make a bowl using a packet of each. (Am I daring or what?) For my first attempt at slow cooker oatmeal, I decided to combine these two favorite flavors. We were not disappointed in the results the first day or after reheating the next day. I hope you enjoy it too.
This isn’t your instant packet of oats! This slow cooker oatmeal allows you to prepare delicious oatmeal with minimal effort while you sleep. The flavors of maple and apple combine nicely with the texture and flavor of the oats.
3-4 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped into 1-inch cubes
1½ cup milk
1 cup apple cider
½ cup water
1 slightly heaping cup of steel-cut oats
2 tbsp. maple sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
Peel, core, and chop the apple. I cut each apple into eighths, cored it, peeled it, and then chopped it into pieces that were about 1 inch. Use any firm apple that you might use in a pie (Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady). This time I used Pink Lady apples.
Spray the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray.
Pour the liquids into the slow cooker.
Stir in your dry ingredients.
Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.
When you open the slow cooker, stir, and serve immediately.
Here is where the fun begins. Feel free to add dried cranberries, raisins, toasted pecans, or, if you feel a little naughty, a bit of maple syrup.
If you wish to reheat this in the microwave, add a bit of hot water, syrup, or milk. Cover and microwave for 30 seconds (or using a reheat setting). You might need to stir and then heat for a few seconds more.
Maple sugar can often be found in the baking aisle at Whole Foods, online, or at farmers’ markets. I got mine at Trader Joe’s, but am not sure whether this was a seasonal item. If you can’t find maple sugar, use brown sugar and add a bit of maple syrup at the end.
Sometimes a homemade treat is the perfect gift to give. Gifting a little treat can allow you to thoughtfully acknowledge someone without giving more stuff (or spending a lot of money). At this time of year my family has come to expect that I have put some of their favorite cookies under the tree. I have also started a tradition of giving edible gifts to my colleagues at the office. You can be as creative as you like in the packaging (see Michelle’s post for a couple of ideas). No matter how you wrap them, chances are people will be pleased just to get inside to the goodies! Here are three easy ideas for homemade treats for gifting.
1. I am a big fan of giving roasted and flavored nuts. There comes a point in this season when even I have had too much that is sweet. Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts are a savory (or salty-sweet) snack that feel festive. They are a favorite of my mother-in-law. These nuts packaged in a nice bowl would make a great hostess gift.
2. Shauna Sever, The Next Door Baker, has a great post about variations on chocolate bark. Sure you can follow one of the many recipes published at this time of year, but why not customize a bark to meet your taste? This season I am hoping to make some that incorporates the new dried coconut strips I found at Trader Joe’s.
3.Finally, I include the treat I gifted my fellow bloggers with when we had our holiday brunch. This is a variation of a recipe from Paula Deen for Gooey Butter Cake. One of her first cookbooks, The Lady & Sons Just Desserts, includes the original version and a series of variations. For this recipe, I have combined two variations and then added my own holiday twist. For some reason, I never remember the original name for these bars, so I’ve always called them Ooey Gooey Squares. Here I introduce to you my Peppermint Bark Ooey Gooey Squares.
As often as I find myself cooking and baking from family recipes and other bloggers, I really enjoy cookbooks. When I was a girl, I loved to flip through my mother’s and grandmother’s cookbooks to imagine what I might make. Now, there are few gifts that make me happier than a new cookbook. There are many favorites that I am sure that I am leaving out. Here are six cookbooks that I go to again and again (or soon will), in no particular order.
This cookbook was a gift a few Christmases ago. Like all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks, the photography is lovely. The recipes are relatively straightforward and yet elegant. Her recipe for roasted butternut squash soup is one that I make many times over the winter.
Late last winter I bought I a slow cooker, hoping that it would help me to make batches of things to keep my freezer stocked. This cookbook has a range of recipes that, like all recipes from America’s Test Kitchen, are engineered to consistently come out delicious. These recipes are not like those you remember from the earlier era of the crock pot. There are new (tequila and lime turkey chili) and old (Sloppy Joes) favorites.
King Arthur Flour is my go-to when I have a baking question or problem. Not surprisingly, this cookbook is like the Joy of Cooking for cookies. You learn many basic techniques and find a broad range of recipes. What I like best are the variations on a theme. For example, do you like your gingersnaps crisp or soft? You will find both recipes here. I still have not made my way through the entire book, but I have had success with every recipe I have tried.
Rosie’s is a great bakery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I was in college I came to know it and to be introduced to this cookbook. I won’t lie, I found this one challenging when I started to make the leap to more complicated baking. This one required special equipment and ingredients for some recipes! Now it feels like an old friend. There is an updated version, but I still love my tattered copy.
Flour is another fabulous bakery in Cambridge (and Boston). It is dangerous working within walking distance of this place. (Thankfully, I don’t often have time to leave my desk for lunch!) I was fortunate enough to attend the “All Things Chocolate” cooking class at Flour last year. For those who are not able to take a class, this cookbook allows you to try to recreate their fabulous treats at home. It has replaced Rosie’s cookbook as the one that challenges me, but I am loving every opportunity to try something new.
I was so excited for this book to come out that I could not wait to see if Santa would leave it under my tree. I had to preorder it. Given the rush of the holiday season, I have yet to make a single recipe out of it, but I know that I soon will. What I can tell you from paging through it is that Deb Perelman designed a beautiful book. If these recipes are anything like those on her blog, I know they will be easy to follow and hard to improve upon–in other words, instant classics.
I hope you find one of these wrapped and waiting for you to explore.
UP NEXT, DON’T MISS: 5 Ways to Give Back this Holiday Season